Jio, Airtel speed up 5G rollout like it’s going out of style

Jio airtel 5G
Image by photosvit | Bigstockphoto

India’s top two telecom operators, Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, are aggressively ramping up their 5G network rollouts with plans to add 9,000-10,000 5G sites per week cumulatively in coming months, up from around 3,500 5G sites per week.

At that pace, the 5G rollout by the two operators will far exceed the obligation mandated by the Department of Telecom (DoT), the Economic Times reported.

As per the report, Airtel is deploying over 1,200 sites a week, while Jio is currently adding around 2,500 sites per week. Jio plans to add 5,000 to 6,000 sites per week in three to four months’ time, because it has a more ambitious plan to cover the entire country with 5G by the end of 2023. Bharti Airtel plans to hit the same target by March 2024.

Jio feels the cost of 5G SA

Jio’s 5G rollout is also more capital intensive, as it is adding two base stations per site (one for 700 MHz and another for 3300 MHz) due to its adoption of the 5G SA (standalone) architecture.

Airtel has adopted the 5G NSA (non-standalone) architecture, which straddles existing 4G deployment in 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz bands with the 3300 MHz band.

The telco says it has already signed on 1 million unique 5G users less than 30 days after its commercial launch last month in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Siliguri, Nagpur and Varanasi.

Reliance Jio, on the other hand, is conducting beta trials of its 5G services in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Varanasi.

The ET reported that both telcos expect 5G equipment – especially 5G New Radio (NR) – to be easily available in three to four months as vendors like Nokia and Ericsson ramp up their local production capacity.

“This will be the fastest deployment of 5G services anywhere in the world,” a Jio spokesperson told the ET. “We have already upgraded our infrastructure and core network and the radio network is being expeditiously rolled out.”

Airtel’s spokesperson said that its 5G network rollout is going according to plan.

Network obligations

As per the network rollout obligations mentioned in notice inviting application (NIA), Indian telcos who bought 5G spectrum in the mid band (3300 MHz) are obligated to commercially launch services anywhere in the three metros by the end of the first year. For non-metros, a 5G launch must occur in at least one city in a telecom circle.

The NIA also stipulates that for the 700-MHz band, 40% of metros must be covered with services. For non-metros, 10% of the district headquarters must be provided with 5G connectivity by the end of the first year.

Meanwhile, smartphone manufacturers are scrambling to comply with the government’s order to speed up software updates on 5G smartphones to support Jio and Airtel 5G services.

Most 5G devices have been enabled to receive 5G signals, according to media reports. However, Apple’s 5G iPhones won’t support 5G in India until December.

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